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What a Fowl Fate Can Teach Us About Being Cooped Up

Updated: May 15, 2020

By John Rolfe

The Author, John Rolfe
Author John Rolfe

The husband in Le Chateau Bow-Wow (dog house) is a hoary cliché of marital discord, so for the sake of fresher fare I present the husband in Le Chateau Chickadoodle.

The husband is me. Chateau Chickadoodle is our henhouse, the rustic residence of six chickens who found themselves cooped up with your humble narrator one recent afternoon.

It’s no secret the COVID-19 lockdown is fueling discord in marriages. Happily, after two months of being underfoot, I remain on reasonably jovial terms with my spouse, though on occasion we have joked – I think she was joking – about her locking me in the henhouse for a respite from my less than endearing behavior.

Well, she finally did it. I was busy with my housekeeping duties cleaning the ladies’ nesting quarters. My wife served their afternoon snack and departed. When I tried the door, it wouldn’t open. She’d slid the bolt latch out of habit. I think. There’s no way to unlock it from inside and no other exit.

Forlornly gazing at our house, I waved frantically in hope of catching my wife’s eye when she looked out the window. Alas, she did not. So I stood there, a literally henpecked husband as Peggy, one of our Rhode Island Reds, gave my leg the what-for with her beak.

Stuck inside indefinitely with a bunch of squabbling chickens. If this wasn’t an apt metaphor for life in America these days, what is? Oh, I’d survive but the novelty would wear off pretty quick. For one thing, the grub leaves something to be desired. I’m not big on a steady diet of raw eggs, pelletized grain and roughage by-products, and water. I’d have to fight the ladies for scraps of bread and the cramped sleeping arrangements would surely be in dispute.

Anna luxuriates in the hens' boudoir
Anna Luxuriates in the Hens' Boudoir

As I contemplated my fowl fate it seemed that we aggrieved Americans aren’t much different from my chickens. They are on permanent lockdown due to a permanent pandemic of predators – foxes, hawks, raccoons, coyotes — who will very possibly put a worse crimp in their existence. But if they really think about it, our hens have it pretty darn good with catered treats (served on a platter!), luxe dust bath, maid service, and intellectual stimulation — a “Learn German” DVD on a string they apparently only use only as a pecking toy. (I’ve yet to hear a word of Deutsch out of any of them.)

Like it or not, there is a balance between freedom and safety in this world, but the lure of green grass and open space is irresistible to us all. Our ladies try to make a break for it when the door is open but at least they haven’t accused us of tyranny when all we’re doing is looking out for their well-being.

After a half hour or so, it occurred to me that I would need to heed the call of nature at some point, the same challenge I faced the time I got trapped on the garage roof, where peeing on such a conspicuous public stage was not an option unless I was willing to accept the indecent exposure arrest that would accompany my rescue. I surely wasn’t about to live by “When in the chicken shack, do as the chickens do” and drop my business wherever it falls.

The most logical course of action — caterwauling for help — had failed me on the garage, which is much closer to the house. I eventually got out of that fine mess by creating another — tossing the nearly full paint can I couldn’t set anywhere or hold while perilously climbing onto a rickety ladder. This escape would require breaking the door of the Chateau.

What to do? With my Honey-Do list long and nothing getting done, my wife’s attention would surely be drawn in my direction at some point. So I sat on a hard wooden chair and took a little snooze that was finally interrupted by her voice.

“How long are you going to sit in there?”

“Until you let me out, dear,” I replied. “You locked me in.”

“I was wondering why you were still out here. Why didn’t you yell?”

“I wasn’t going to shred what’s left of my dignity by yelling,” I explained. “I waved but you didn’t see me. I figured this would be the quickest way to get you out here.”

Like chickens, indolence does not fly around here for long and that proved to be my salvation. The experience taught me to be grateful for things like chores and the blessings of sheltering in place, though I’m still working on a taste for chicken feed.

John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website ( with the meter running.



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